Hooking Kids on History

“Today’s kids are so fragmented by media, sports, school and hobbies that history is a tough sell,” says Whitehorse author Keith Halliday.

Halliday recently discussed the challenges, and his solution, at a Yukon Historical and Museum Association heritage after hours presentation.

“Writers need a ripping good story,” he told the informal audience of two dozen in the Taylor and Drury Room of MacBride Museum.

As a descendent of both those families, Halliday mines the motherlode of family history for his Yukon Kids Series: Aurore of the Yukon, Yukon Secret Agents, Yukon River Ghost and Game On.

Initially Halliday shared the stories of his grandmother’s Gold Rush past to distract his kids, aged 8 to 11, on a Chilkoot Trail hike. Their suggestion that he write them down developed into a partnership among Halliday, his children and MacBride.

The museum offers high-activity camps incorporating Halliday’s middle grade adventure books, and co-ordinated the preparation of study guides and educational material for the grades 4 to 6 Yukon curriculum.

Several key choices drove the creation of the series. Choosing characters Kip, Auroreand their friends, Halliday aimed to have every kid recognize themselves, either through similarities in age, or First Nation, or stampede heritage.

“It was important to have strong characters and kids as heroes.”

Furthermore, Halliday says, “The bulk of history about the Yukon overlooks women.”

Whether the title specifies that it’s a girls’ or a boys’ adventure, Halliday sets the record straight about the influence of women in the Gold Rush.

Halliday deliberately chose to combine historical fiction and historical accuracy by letting the characters carry the fictionalized family history plotlines while meeting authentic Gold Rush figures along the way.

Further discussion weighed the pros and cons of making the stories relevant to modern times, with devices such as time travel or secret portals.

“That seemed too gimmicky,” says Halliday. “We let kids draw their own lessons from the stories.

“Gamblers, con men, greed, violence, poverty, racism, death, taboos—none of it is sugar-coated. We left the tough themes in, which made real peril for the characters to overcome.”

How to tell the story was clarified in the brutally frank critiques from Halliday’schildren: Don’t make it boring or teachy.

“We focused less on dates and more on the details of history to colour the story.”

Personally, Halliday wanted the books to have a certain adult readability to appeal equally to teens and bedtime-story-reading parents.

Feedback from parents and readers alike confirms the Yukon Kids Series is on the right track.

“Kids writing their own ghost stories in camp, or studying the Chilkoot book to prepare for their own hike, shows that they are interested in history,” he says.

Halliday’s next challenge is to move the series into the teenage years. He would also like to have his books translated into French to bring the history of the franco-yukonnaise to the Quebecois side of the family.

“History is a kid’s roots,” says Halliday. “It affects how they think of themselves, their place in the world, and where they’ll go in the future.”

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